Monday, August 4, 2014

Film Review: Back to 1942 (2012)

Back to 1942 (Review)
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Instant
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

"...a very powerful, engaging, and interesting historical film with phenomenal cinematography..."

During the Second Sino-Japanese War, refugees of Henan, China, flee a devastating famine.

Back to 1942 is a historical film that mainly follows the refugees of Henan as they attempt to survive their voyage, and as they are neglected by their government and attacked by the Japanese. It mainly follows the 300+ miles journey of Master Fan (Zhang Guoli) and his family, as well as a fellow villager's family. Also, TIME journalist Theodore H. White (Adrien Brody) investigates the source of and documents the famine. Back to 1942 leads to a very strong ending.

In fact, much of Back to 1942 is powerful -- it's bleak and emotional. The story is devastating, to be blunt. And, the atmosphere it builds is ominous and chilling. Thanks to the superb costume and set design, as well as acting, the film really pulls you into this tragic event. Some of these scenes will be infuriating -- many of these scenes, particularly those regarding the difficult choices the refugees face, are understandable, though. (what would you do to survive a famine?)

However, the story is so vast, it leaves little room for proper character. There's a connection, even one that's emotional and effective, but it often feels miniscule. In fact, due to the lack of proper character development and strong, distinct characters, I often found myself confused on who was who; particularly the two families that share their trip, since there were several daughters, husbands, fathers, servants, and so on. Like I said, it still an effective connection, but it could've been more.

Enough of the could've would've, though, since I don't dwell on what could've been. Anyway, films like this should be taken with a grain of salt. Films based on "true" events often suffer from some distorted facts or, worse, forgotten facts. There are always two-sides to every story, and even if they're similar sides, there'll always be some minor differences. I'm not very familiar with this event, but it seems to at least try to be as accurate as possible. Just take it with a grain of salt, that's all I'm really trying to say.

Like I mentioned earlier, the acting is all-around great, even fantastic at times. Zhang Guoli, in particular, is very impressive. Even Adrien Brody proves he can still deliver a great performance. I've mentioned this before in my reviews, too, and I'll do it again: films based on war or tragedies tend to have some of the very best cinematography, and Back to 1942 is no exception. Back to 1942, despite its bleak subject, looks absolutely stunning. The music also adds to the emotional depth of the film, it really helps invoke some deep feelings. Director Feng Xiaogang meticulously crafts an a film of epic proportions; it's a bit disjointed and unbalanced, but it ultimately works in creating a lively and powerful experience.

Overall, Back to 1942 is a great film. It has some flaws in its story and storytelling that could've been alleviated by a stronger focus or longer runtime, but, like I said, there's no point in dwelling on what could've been. What we do have is a very powerful, engaging, and interesting historical film with phenomenal cinematography, set and costume design, and great acting. Definitely worth seeking for fans of historical films.

Score: 8/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and blood, some brief nudity.

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